March 26, 2018 | Ken Reed

Construction’s Fatal Four – A Better Approach to Prevention

In 2016, 21% of fatal injuries in the private sector were in the Construction industry as classified by the Department of Labor. That was 991 people killed in this industry (almost 3 people every day). Among these were the following types of fatality:

Falls – 384 (38.7%)
Struck by Object – 93 (9.4%)
Electrocutions – 82 (8.3%)
Caught-in/between – 72 (7.3%)

Imagine that. Eliminating just these 4 categories of fatalities would have saved over 630 workers in 2016.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think we can suddenly eliminate an entire category of injury or fatality in the U.S. However, I am ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that, at each of our companies, we can take a close look at these types of issues and make a serious reduction in these rates. Simply telling our workers to “Be careful out there!” or “Follow the procedures and policies we give you” just won’t cut it.

NOTE: In the following discussion, when I’m talking about our workers and teammates, I am talking about ALL of us! We ALL violate policies and procedures every day. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the speedometer on your car on the way home from work tonight and honestly tell me you followed the speed limit all the way home.

As an example, take a look at your last few incident investigations. When there is an incident, one of the questions always asked is, “Did you know that you weren’t supposed to do that?” The answer is almost always, “Yes.” Yet, our teammates did it anyway.

Unfortunately, too many companies stop here. “Worker knew he should not have put his hand into a pinch point. Corrective action, Counseled the employee on the importance of following policy and remaining clear of pinch points.” What a completely useless corrective action! I’m pretty sure that the worker who just lost the end of his finger knows he should not have put his hand into that pinch point. Telling him to pay attention and be more careful next time will probably NOT be very effective.

If we really want to get a handle on these types of injuries, we must adopt a more structured, scientific strategy. I’d propose the following as a simple start:

1. Get out there and look! Almost every accident investigation finds that this has happened before, or that the workers often make this same mistake. If that is true, we should be getting out there and finding these daily mistakes.

2. To correct these mistakes, you must do a solid root cause analysis. Just yelling at our employees will probably not be effective. Remember, they are not bad people; they are just people. This is what people do. They try to do the best job they can, in the most efficient manner, and try to meet management’s expectations. We need to understand what, at the human performance level, allowed these great employees to do things wrong. THAT is what a good root cause analysis can do for you.

3. As in #2, when something bad DOES happen, you must do a solid RCA on those incidents, too. If your corrective actions are always:

  • Write a new policy or procedure
  • Discipline the employee
  • Conduct even MORE training

then your RCA methodology is not digging deep enough.

There is really no reason that we can’t get these types of injuries and fatalities under control. Start by doing a good root cause analysis to understand what really happened, and recognize and acknowledge why your team made mistakes. Only then can we apply effective corrective actions to eliminate those root causes. Let’s work together to keep our team safe.

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